History of the Church Boat

For over 350 years the “kirkkovene”, Church Boat, a traditional Finnish long rowing boat, has been an important part of the Nordic Culture. In Finland the Church Boats traditionally carried members the long distances to church on Sunday. The early Church Boats were modeled after the larger Scandinavian Viking Longship. Families, businesses and churches, owned and maintained these boats.

The size of a traditional church boat was determined by how many people the boat needed to take to church. Therefore, the size ranged from the size of a row boat, 17 to 19 ft, to something over 100 ft. The largest church boat that is known to have existed had 30 pairs of oars, two rowers to each oar, making 120 rowers. There were also extra seats for about the same number of passengers, over 200 people altogether. A typical size Church Boat would have been somewhere around 12 to 15 meters with 7 to 10 pairs of oars.

After church services, racing of these boats on the home trip became a competitive social event. In the 1920’s, the traditional church boats almost entirely disappeared, as roads and buses developed. Prior to then the Church Boats were buses of their time.

The modern 12mm plywood Church Boats, emerged again, but are built mainly for racing purposes. Although some are used for other recreational purposes, nearly all are built to conform to the national Church Boat racing rules. But like the builders of old, and manufacturers of any racing equipment the Church Boat manufacturers to this day don’t publish or reveal too many details of their products.

Click here to check out the Sulkavan Suursoudut Regatta with its 11,000 participants, which has become the largest rowing regatta in the world.

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